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Great Serum Race: Blazing the Iditarod Trail

Overview

Ride shotgun with the heroic mushers whose bravery inspired the Iditarod.

In the winter of 1925, Nome, Alaska, was hit by an unexpected and deadly outbreak of diphtheria. Officials immediately quarantined the town, but the only cure for the community of more than 1,400 people was antitoxin serum and the nearest supply was in Anchorage—hundreds of miles of snowbound wilderness away. The only way to get it to Nome was by dogsled.

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Overview

Ride shotgun with the heroic mushers whose bravery inspired the Iditarod.

In the winter of 1925, Nome, Alaska, was hit by an unexpected and deadly outbreak of diphtheria. Officials immediately quarantined the town, but the only cure for the community of more than 1,400 people was antitoxin serum and the nearest supply was in Anchorage—hundreds of miles of snowbound wilderness away. The only way to get it to Nome was by dogsled.

Twenty teams braved subzero temperatures and blizzard conditions to run over 600 miles in six days in a desperate relay race that saved the people of Nome. Several of the dogs, including Togo and Balto, became national heroes. Today their efforts, and those of the courageous mushers, are commemorated every March by the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race.

Jon Van Zyle’s stunning oil paintings capture the brutal conditions, pristine wilderness, and sheer guts and determination demonstrated by the heroic mushers and dogs.

The story of the heroic role played by sled dogs, including the Siberian husky Togo, in the delivery of antitoxin serum to those stricken with diphtheria in 1925 Nome. Includes historical notes about the event as well as about the Iditarod Sled Dog Race which commemorates it.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
In this award-winning children's picture book, Debbie S. Miller tells the dramatic story of the great 1925 Nome serum run. With a virulent diphtheria epidemic raging in the ice-locked city, 20 intrepid dogsled teams relayed a supply of lifesaving vaccine across the frozen tundra, covering 674 miles in less than 5 days. This heroic effort is now commemorated by the annual Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race.
School Library Journal
Gr 3-6-Hot on the heels of Robert J. Blake's Togo (Philomel, 2002) comes another version of the story of the relay race across Alaska to save the people of Nome from an outbreak of diphtheria in 1925. While Blake focuses on one particular dog, Miller tells the more complete tale, beginning with the first dying children and including all of the details of carrying the serum from Anchorage, 1000 miles from its destination. The conditions were terrible as dog teams and mushers dealt with all sorts of problems caused by temperatures as low as 64 degrees below zero. Much of the story focuses on Leonhard Seppala, the musher who owned Togo, Balto, and many other sled dogs. Included are a list of the mushers who participated in the relay, additional information on the dogs that ran, brief information on the Iditarod, a trail map, and photographs of Seppala and Togo. Van Zyle, official artist of the Iditarod and a musher himself, has created vivid, full-spread paintings to bring the story to life. This book does not have the intensity of storytelling or art that is found in Togo, but for children whose interest is piqued by Blake's book, or for older readers, this is an excellent account told with lots of detail and drama.-Susan Oliver, Tampa-Hillsborough Public Library System, FL Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Make way for more sled dogs. In the second work this fall to focus on the origins of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race-the first was Blake's Togo (p. 1216)-the reader learns about the historic 1925 rescue mission by sled-dog teams and their brave owners, bringing antitoxin serum to Nome, Alaska, to fight a diphtheria outbreak. Miller (Are Trees Alive?, p. 419, etc.) does a thorough job of explaining the different dog teams and owners and how many people and dogs played a part in the rescue despite difficult conditions. Van Zyle's (Gone Again, Ptarmigan, 2001, etc.) polished paintings of sled dogs in action complement the longer story well. The official painter of the Iditarod Race effectively captures the Alaska landscape, especially in sweeping vistas of snow, sky, and northern lights. The back matter includes a list of the "mushers" (dog handlers), further information about the dogs, a summary of the Iditarod Race, and a bibliography. Simple maps on the endpapers show the route of the rescue mission and the position of the route across the state of Alaska. This volume offers a more complete history of the serum race and all the heroic players within a more general context, while the recent Togo focuses on that particular dog and his contribution, providing more emotional engagement but less overall understanding of the event and its modern commemoration in the Iditarod. (Nonfiction. 7-10)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780802788122
  • Publisher: Walker & Company
  • Publication date: 1/1/2003
  • Format: Library Binding
  • Pages: 32
  • Age range: 9 - 12 Years
  • Product dimensions: 11.36 (w) x 8.96 (h) x 0.37 (d)

Meet the Author

Debbie S. Miller has written many acclaimed children’s books, including Arctic Lights, Arctic Nights. She lives in Fairbanks, Alaska.

Jon Van Zyle is a noted children’s book illustrator and the official artist of the Iditarod Sled Dog Race. He has twice participated in the run and was recently inducted into the Iditarod Hall of Fame. Jon lives with his wife, Jona, and their twenty Siberian huskies in Eagle River, Alaska.

Jon Van Zyle has also collaborated with Debbie S. Miller on seven books for children.

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Read an Excerpt

The Great Serum Race

Blazing the Iditarod Trail


By Debbie S. Miller Walker & Company

Copyright © 2006 Debbie S. Miller
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9780802777232


Chapter One

On a dusky January afternoon in 1925, Dr. Welch walked quickly toward the outskirts of Nome. Sled dogs howled from their yards. Outside a small cabin, a worried Inupiat Eskimo mother greeted the doctor. She led him into her home where two small children lay in bed, struggling to breathe.

"Can you open your mouth?" Dr. Welch asked the three-year-old boy.

The weak child tried to open his mouth, but it was too painful for his swollen throat. His fever was extremely high. Dr. Welch comforted the mother and children, but there was little he could do. The next day, both children died.

Soon after, another girl, Bessie Stanley, was miserable with the same symptoms. But this time, Dr. Welch could examine Bessie's throat. He immediately recognized the symptoms of diphtheria. Poor Bessie would not live through the night.

Diphtheria. Dr. Welch had not seen a case in twenty years. This fast-spreading disease could wipe out the entire community of more than 1,400 people. Dr. Welch immediately met with the city council and recommended a quarantine. The schools and other public places were closed. Community leaders told people to stay in their homes.

There was only one way to fight diphtheria. The town needed a supply of antitoxin serum. Dr. Welch sent out a desperateplea for help by radio telegraph. The message soon reached Governor Bone in Juneau and other important officials. Newspapers across the nation picked up word that the historic gold rush town needed emergency help.

The nearest supply of serum was at a hospital in Anchorage, 1,000 males away, across a snowbound wilderness. Officials considered flying the serum to Nome, but it was too dangerous to operate open cockpit planes in extreme-cold temperatures. In those days; planes were used only during the summer. Nome was an icebound port, so boats were not an option. The serum could travel partway by train, and then the only safe means of transport was by sled dog team.

On January 26, an Anchorage doctor carefully packed the glass bottles of serum for the long journey. The bottles had to be protected to keep the serum from freezing. He gave the twenty-pound bundle to the conductor at the train, station. Soon, steam engine 66 began to chug its way north to Nenana, the closest railroad link to Nome. Nenana lay nearly 300 miles away, beyond the tallest mountains of North America.

On the frozen Tanana River, five-year-old Alfred John could hear the distant roar of the steam engine. His Athabaskan Indian family lived in a cabin near the train station in Nenana. Although it was late at night and nearly fifty degrees below zero, Alfred and his mother bundled up in their warmest caribou legskin boots and fur-lined parkas and walked to the station to greet the train.

As they waited by the tracks in the moonlight, Alfred watched the huge locomotive hiss steam into the frozen sky and slow to a screeching halt. He saw men unload the freight, and the conductor hand the serum package to Bill Shannon. Bill was the first of twenty mushers to carry the serum in a dog team relay to Nome. These brave men and their best dogs would travel nearly 700 miles on a snow-packed mail trail.

Bill covered the serum with a bear hide and lashed it to the sled. His strongest team of nine malamutes harked and were anxious to move. Just before midnight on January 27, Bill waved good-bye to Alfred and shouted to his dogs. Swoosh! Into the winter night, the dog team sped toward Tolovana, the first relay stop some fifty-two miles away.

Bill knew every turn of the trail. Like many of the mushers, his regular job was to transport mail and freight with his dog team. Traveling long distances in the extreme cold was a dangerous challenge. If the dogs ran too fast and breathed too deeply, they could frost their lungs. When the team reached bitter-cold stretches along the river, Bill slowed his dogs to protect them. He often ran behind the sled to keep himself warm.



Continues...


Excerpted from The Great Serum Race by Debbie S. Miller Copyright © 2006 by Debbie S. Miller. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 18, 2005

    A treasure to own for everyone

    The Great Serum Race, Blazing the Iditarod Trail by Debbie S. Miller with illustrations by Jon Van Zyle, the official artist of the dogsled race and a two-time participant in the Iditarod, is a children's book, ages 7 to 10, published in 2002 by Walker & Company. This has become one of my favorite books for introducing children to this amazing race of skill and endurance. The book is based on the real events of January, 1925, when the population of Nome, Alaska, was in desperate need of diphtheria vaccine. Dr. Welch had not seen a case of diphtheria in twenty years and suddenly he had three young children very ill with the disease. Something had to be done. The community was put under quarantine and an emergency wire went out to the governor in Juneau that the town needed emergency help. This is where the mushers came in. The decision was made to bring serum from Anchorage, over 1,000 miles away, to Nome. In those days, airplanes only flew in Alaska in the summertime because they had open-cockpits and neither plane nor pilot would survive the weather. A steam engine (#66) took the serum from Anchorage to Nenana where the real adventure began. The rest of the story tells of the harrowing experiences of mushers and dogs in their race against time in getting the serum to its destination. At one point, it is believed the serum might be lost. The front of the book includes a map of the dogsled trail from Nenana to Nome. There is also an introduction to Togo, a Siberian husky and one of the true heroes of the 1925 race. Another excellent feature included in this book, is the complete list of mushers who participated in the original race, each one's race segment, and the distance covered. The race's heroic dogs also have a page devoted to them at the end of the book. This book is a real treasure for both adults and children. Carolyn Rowe Hill

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